In the past few weeks, we have had the privilege of meeting with several CEOs of start-up companies. What was most interesting about this particular group was that while many had successful ventures in their past, few of them had launched educational products in. With education market estimates at over $8B and every piece of it in a potential and perpetual state of disruption, it is easy to see the attraction for new players. But before you jump in, you will want to consider the following things.
Be ready to prove it works: Easy, right? You have an army of data scientists, engineers, academics, and Ivy League MBAs. You have investors with deep pockets. You have a track record of launching successful products. But the bottom line in education is “does it work?” Answering that question in the education market is extremely difficult because the definitions of the most important criteria—student achievement and student engagement—are hazy at best.
Student achievement in its current and most pure definition means growth in test scores year over year. But the assessment market is in flux—PARCC and SBAC are being implemented to support new standards, new and alternative GEDs are increasingly adaptive and more authentic, competency-based programs are growing in states like New Hampshire, Washington and Wisconsin—and each state, each district and each school are wrestling with the best ways to demonstrate student achievement.
Because student achievement is so hard to measure, companies look instead to measure student engagement. Data such as time on task and screen clicks tend to be the criteria of choice for most of the products out there. But there is little agreement that these measures are meaningful. Last week EdSurge published EdSurge: what-does-engagement-actually-mean discussing just this issue. Engagement has become the new “white noise” of educational products. Everyone’s products claim to engage students, but does that engagement mean anything?
As a start-up business in an extremely dynamic and crowded marketplace, how will you demonstrate student achievement and student engagement in a way that is meaningful to decision makers? If the definitions are hazy, how are you going to formulate meaningful data for teachers, schools and districts?
Know how your product will be sold and help your customers to buy: Seems crazy, right? You have a great product. You have had a successful pilot. Everyone loves it. Now just send in the invoice and everything is good to go. Probably not. There are a host of questions that need to be answered before you can help your customers buy your product. Are you selling to teachers, to schools, or to districts? If you are selling to teachers, what is the price point and fulfillment process needed? When is that money available for them to use? Is it a credit card or a PO sale? If you are selling to schools and districts, what funding will your product pull from (assessment, professional development, innovation, technology)? Are there other funding buckets available? When will the money be available? Is there an RFP process? Should you plan to help schools access grant money? How long is the typical sales cycle for a product like yours? Are there other products that must be retired for your product to be used? Are there other products that must be installed for your product to be used?
In a market where procurement is also in a state of flux, what is your plan to figure out the best way for your customers to purchase your product?
Know what it will take to get your product fully implemented: Your product might seem to be intuitive, but be honest about what it will take to get your customers on-boarded and trained. Can it be handled completely by self-service, or do your customers need more support? Is a train-the-trainer program appropriate? What should you expect on the customer service side? When will customers need the most support? What do you need to know about APIs, SIS, data privacy, and IT requirements from the district side? Getting your customers to select your product is only the start of the sale. The devil of usage and results is in the details.
What is your plan to fully understand the implementation needs of your product? How much support is your company willing to provide?
It certainly appears that a market of $8B has room for a lot of products and a lot of players. There are a ton of innovative products and innovative people vying for those dollars. But without a deep understanding of how efficacy, procurement, and implementation works with your product, there is little need to stay up nights thinking of promotional strategies.